“The elimination of counter-revolutionaries is a struggle of opposites as between ourselves and the enemy. Among the people, there are some who see this question in a somewhat different light. Two kinds of people hold views differing from ours. Those with a Right deviation in their thinking make no distinction between ourselves and the enemy and take the enemy for our own people. They regard as friends the very persons whom the masses regard as enemies. Those with a “Left” deviation in their thinking magnify contradictions between ourselves and the enemy to such an extent that they take certain contradictions among the people for contradictions with the enemy and regard as counter-revolutionary persons who are actually not. Both these views are wrong. Neither makes possible the correct handling of the problem of eliminating counter-revolutionaries or a correct assessment of this work.
“To form a correct evaluation of our work in eliminating counter-revolutionaries, let us see what repercussions the Hungarian incident has had in China. After its occurrence there was some unrest among a section of our intellectuals, but there were no squalls. Why? One reason, it must be said, was our success in eliminating counter-revolutionaries fairly thoroughly.”
-Mao Zedong (On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People)
by BJ Murphy
Here on June 4th, around the world, people will be celebrating honor to the “pro-democracy” students of the so-called Tiananmen Square “massacre”. Just as the media did so 22 years ago, the media will again paint the very elaborate portrait of Communist “suppression” against what were labeled as Chinese students seeking “democracy” and “freedom”.
Though, this very mindset over the 1989 event isn’t just attained by that of various bourgeois media, but is also shared by a wide selection of revolutionary leftists, particularly that of ultra-leftist western Maoists, like that of who run the news blog Kasama Project.
In fact, this very article is a response to another, written by the blog’s founder Mike Ely.
According to Ely, “the regime in China suppressed a powerful movement of rebellion, using the Peoples Liberation Army against the students and workers gathered in the heart of Beijing.” (Ely, Kasama) In other words, as the media paints this portrait as well, the PLA were the bad guys – the capitalist oppressors – and the students were of course the good guys – the socialist “vanguard of liberation” (Ely, Kasama).
The only problem with this very nice painting is that it’s a complete sham!
This is, of course, not being said as a means of “opportunism”, nor to be controversial. The point of this article is to defend the truth of that very event: a counter-revolution led by that of pro-western “democracy” students in the objective goal of the Communist Party’s destabilization.
A revolution out of the sky?
As member of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization – Fight Back! (FRSO) Mick Kelly once said of the event, “the so-called “democracy” movement did not fall from the sky one day,” (Kelly, FRSO) as is the very picture Ely seems to be painting throughout his short article. In Ely’s mindset, the 1989 set of protests was an event that erupted out of thin air; a response to Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng’s economic reforms.
This is an absolute lie! A misleading one at that, as Ely seems to conveniently leave out certain important historical events leading up to the Tiananmen protests. One of which starts with what was known as “Democracy Wall”.
As Mick Kelly points out, “it was probably the only place in China where a person could hear Mao denounced as a ‘fascist.'” (Kelly, FRSO) Though, “Democracy Wall” acted out as a gathering spot by several ideologically differing citizens. Some of which who were suffering through the Cultural Revolution. Though, to others, it was the breading ground for counter-revolutionary activities. And because of such growing activities, what was known as “Democracy Wall” was eventually shut down.
From then on, a split between the CPC – and amongst the people as well as to who they aligned themselves with – began to increase.
An ongoing counter-revolutionary tendency
To now introduce the other topic at-hand, Ely had also held a recent position, similar to that of what we see here on the Tiananmen Square event, towards Libya. Although I cannot link you to this conversation between myself and Ely, it was a debate held between us on the internal conflict (now NATO-led imperialism) in Libya, where rebels presided in Benghazi are waging a (counter)revolution against forces loyal to Col. Gaddafi.
Despite my attempts of trying to show that the rebels were clearly reactionary and deserved no support by that of the revolutionary left, Ely inclined that the rebels were “a democratic force for the good.”
But what does this have to do with the Tiananmen Square protests? Well despite the fact that, in both events, Ely has a clear tendency of throwing his support towards counter-revolutionary rebels, it was the fact he conveniently decided to leave out any mention of the Libyan rebels’ anti-African migrant stance throughout all his articles written on the Libyan event.
The correlation here is the fact that, like on the Libyan subject, in 1988, just a year before the “pro-democracy” protesters make their final move on Tiananmen Square, there was an anti-African student demonstration held in China. Led by right-wing students, it became an organized event with objections to what they deemed as “African privileges” amongst China’s universities. Although this was not as large of an event as Tiananmen Square’s, and came nowhere near the violent repression against Africans like that in Libya, it was still an event which characterized the right-wing’s growing strength amongst Chinese university students.
In remembrance of Hu Yaobang, Tiananmen emerges
Another interesting point to be made, one that Ely seems to have conveniently left out as well, was the fact that the Tiananmen Square protests erupted in honor to that of CPC General Secretary Hu Yaobang’s death. And I’m sure there’s a reason for Ely’s silence of Hu Yaobang’s role in the protests.
As pointed out in China: Revolution and Counterrevolution by the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), “China’s version of Boris Yeltsin was Secretary General Hu Yaobang, who was widely seen as a proponent of pushing the reforms ahead at a faster pace until his resignation in 1987.” (PSL, China p.73) Boris Yeltsin was the spokesperson of Soviet leader Gorbachev’s perestroika economic reforms. Unlike Gorbachev’s failed wish of sustaining socialism, all while allowing market privatization under the command of the Soviet state, Yeltsin instead wished to see socialism ended altogether.
The storyline is the same during China’s “perestroika” period, when Deng Xiaoping laid forth economic reforms, used as a means of modernizing China from it’s unfortunate massive underdeveloped economic state left after Mao’s death. Though, the outcome of the storyline is very much different. Unlike Yeltsin’s success in hijacking Russia’s period of reforms, thus putting an end to Soviet socialism, Hu Yaobang was left with no victory in destroying China’s socialist struggle.
To make a long story short, it was Hu Yaobang’s death that transitioned the right-wing’s ideals to practice:
“The period of mourning which followed his death provided the opening that the “pro-democracy” movement was waiting for. Huge funeral wreaths began to appear on the martyrs’ monument in Tiananmen Square. On many of these wreaths inscriptions were written, attacking the Party leadership and demanding that the criticisms of Hu’s rightist errors be dropped from the historical record.
“On April 18, 4000 students from Beijing University and People’s University held campus rallies. Later that day about 2000 students marched to Tiananmen Square, carrying a banner with the slogan “Forever cherish the memory of Yaobang, the soul of China.” That night about 200 students stayed in the square. The Washington Post reported the six demands that were put forward. The demands were: public disclosure of the income of national leaders; repudiation of the struggles against bourgeois liberalization and spiritual pollution along with rehabilitation for those who were criticized; increased funding for education; no restrictions on street demonstrations; freedom of speech and the press; and a reassessment of Hu Yaobang.” (Kelly, FRSO)
Soon after, throughout the entire month of April, thousands gathered in Tiananmen Square, continuing their demands, which also led to some protesters attempt to storm Zhongnanhai, the CPC’s headquarters. Although unsuccessful, it marked the beginning of an ever-increasing violent presence amongst the “pro-democracy” protesters.
This isn’t to say that every protester in Tiananmen Square were right-wing counter-revolutionaries. A good portion of them in the beginning were legitimate protesters seeking both answers and action to that of the reforms, which allowed privatization over a third of the economy, including health care.
“On April 26, the line of the politburo was run out in a People’s Daily editorial. The editorial made note of the good intentions of many of the demonstration’s participants and pointed out several areas where the desires of the student movement overlapped with those of the Party. However, what really grabbed people’s attention was the charge that the protests were being manipulated by forces that wanted to do away with socialism and negate the leading role of the Party.” (Kelly, FRSO)
This was further clarified by that of the Yenica Cortes, member of the PSL, stating:
“There were a large number of students involved in the demonstrations […] And while there were many political trends within the student movement, there was a dominant leadership group. The goals of this group had nothing to do with democracy for China’s vast majority of poor and working people.” (PSL, China p.76)
Fact of the matter is that, from April to May, a large section of the student protesters left the Square and returned to school. Despite what the media may try and paint, before the June 3-4 riots by that of “pro-democracy” students, the CPC had continuously laid out peaceful negotiations with thousands of the protesters. Some of which became successful almost immediately.
In a speech by that of Chen Xitong, then-mayor of Beijing, to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, he stated:
“Compared with the demonstration of April 27, the number of students taking part on May 4 dropped from over 30,000 to less than 20,000, and the on-lookers decreased by a big margin. After the May 4 demonstration, 80% of the students returned to class as a result of the work of the Party and administrative leaders of the various universities and colleges. After the publication of the People’s Daily April 26 editorial, the situation in other parts of the country became stabilized quickly. It was evident, with some more work, the turmoil instigated by a small handful of people making use of the student unrest, was likely to calm down…” (Kelly, FRSO)
Although the mayor’s analysis was overall correct, his conclusions to that of the analysis was not.
The symbol of their “democracy”
To symbolize their demands for “democracy” and “freedom”, unlike the original protesters who waved portraits of Mao, carried the Little Red Book, and called for the end of reforms, the right-wing students, who’s goal was to hijack the reforms and overthrow the CPC, carried something else: a large statue of the Goddess of Liberty. The Goddess of Liberty stood as their symbol for “democracy” and “freedom”, eerily depicting that of the U.S.’s Statue of Liberty.
The statue was constructed by Federation of College Students as a stunt to help push the protests forward. This was then deemed as the “Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square”, although not officially on paper, due to the sculpture’s objections:
“The federation suggested that the sculpture be a replica of the Statue of Liberty, like the smaller one that had been carried in a procession by demonstrations in Shanghai two days earlier. But the sculpture students rejected that idea: It might be seen as too openly pro-American and copying an existing work was contrary to their principles as creative artists.
“The place on the Square had been chosen carefully. It was on the great axis heavy with symbolism, that extended from the main entrance of the Forbidden City, with the huge portrait of Mao Zedong, through the monument of People’s Heroes, which had become the students’ headquarters. The statue was to be set up just across the broad avenue from Mao so that it would confront him.” [emphasis added](Kelly, FRSO)
Further clarification of the students’ true intentions were subsequently made after the construction of the statue:
“Their signs were in English. Their symbol, the so-called “Goddess of Democracy,” bore a striking resemblance to the Statue of Liberty. Many expressed their hope of founding a new student organization on July 4 – Independence Day in the United States.” (PSL, China p.76)
Though, despite both their support in Hu Yaobang and their symbol of “democracy”, another high-rank figure was recognized by the “pro-democracy” students: Zhao Ziyang, right-wing Premier of the PRC and was an open advocate to free-enterprise expansion.
Among those of the hunger strike waged in Tiananmen Square, one of them was a Liu Xiaobo. In which Liu had stated that, “We must organize an armed force among the people to materialize Zhao Ziyang’s comeback.” (Kelly, FRSO) Today, Liu Xiaobo is currently imprisoned for his various calls of overthrowing the CPC and to expand privatization over China’s majority State-run economy.
Another well known leader of the student demonstrations was Liu Gang. Through Liu, alone, one was able to understand the class character of that of the “pro-democracy” students: an anti-Communist class character, as stated by Liu himself:
“There was a disproportionate number of physicists among the dissidents. As I mentioned earlier, almost all the student movements in Beijing were started by physics students. Six of the 21 most-wanted student leaders are physicists. This phenomenon can be explained. Under Communist rule, education has been controlled by Marxist, Leninist and Maoist doctrines, especially in the social sciences. Even mathematics had to be learned according to Marx’s notes.
“Among all the disciplines, physics is least controllable by Communist ideology. People with an inquiring mind naturally take up physics as their major in the universities. Human creativity in the search for truth requires freedom.”
The Tiananmen Square massacre: myth or reality?
Before we’re to go into the “massacre” itself, it’s best to first find out what really took place weeks before. Understanding the following events is crucial in the overall understanding over the PLA’s position as victims, rather than executioners, contrary to what was claimed by that of the international bourgeois press.
Despite the CPC’s long weeks of pressing forward negotiations with that of the protesters, on May 20, they then decided to declare martial law. This was, of course, not an act of violence by that of the PLA who were dispatched to Tiananmen Square long before martial law was ever declared. Instead, violence was waged against the unarmed PLA, with the open goal of provoking violence by that of the PLA themselves, as was admitted on May 28 by one the student leaders Chai Ling:
“I feel so sad. […] How can I tell [the students in the Square] that what we are actually hoping for is bloodshed, the moment when the government is ready to butcher the people brazenly? Only when the Square is awash in blood will the people of China open their eyes. Only then will they be really united.” (PSL, China p.74)
Despite early warnings to the protesters encamped in Tiananmen Square to leave peacefully before violence was to ensue, many remained unresponsive and held their ground (thankfully, some of those protesting actually listened to the warnings and eventually left before violence broke out). In response, an unarmed group of PLA were dispatched to Tiananmen Square, though were then subsequently blocked by the protesters, left only to feel their wrath as the students set “army trucks and armoured personnel carriers ablaze, their crews incinerated.” Many of which were taken hostage:
“On June 2, unarmed People’s Liberation Army troops were called in to regain control of the square. Students left the square to confront the troops in the streets leading to the square. Some of the unarmed troops were taken hostage.
“On June 3, the soldiers were issued arms – “though under orders to avoid violence” as reported in a June 5 article in the Wall Street Journal. On June 4, however, demonstrators resorted to violent attacks on soldiers as protesters grabbed hold of army equipment and seized weapons.” (PSL, China p.75)
Jay Matthews, who was a reporter for The Washington Post, was sent to Beijing to cover the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. What he discovered wasn’t a “massacre” of any sort, rather a violent rebellion against the CPC and PLA, leading to a reported death count of around 300 outside of Tiananmen Square, despite the media misleadingly reporting of deaths amongst the Tiananmen Square protesters:
“A few people may have been killed by random shooting on streets near the square, but all verified eyewitness accounts say that the students who remained in the square when troops arrived were allowed to leave peacefully. Hundreds of people, most of them workers and passersby, did die that night, but in a different place and under different circumstances.
“The Chinese government estimates more than 300 fatalities. Western estimates are somewhat higher. Many victims were shot by soldiers on stretches of Changan Jie, the Avenue of Eternal Peace, about a mile west of the square, and in scattered confrontations in other parts of the city, where, it should be added, a few soldiers were beaten or burned to death by angry workers.”
As soon as the student demonstrators made it very clear of their violent counter-revolutionary objectives, the CPC knew then what they had to do:
“There was no massacre in Beijing, at least in any normal sense of the word’s usage. There was in fact a rebellion, which was counter-revolutionary in nature, that was eventually put down by military force. The myth that tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square one evening and proceeded to shoot down peaceful students would be laughable, if people, including some who profess to be revolutionaries, did not happen to believe it.
“The actual situation was very different. Between June 1st and June 4th there was a rising tide of violence in Beijing. Although the “democracy movement” had lost some of its steam, there was still a situation of dual power within the city. While the Party did everything possible to resolve the conflict peacefully, they had no intention of handing over the city to the forces of liberalization or Zhao. Nor did the Party intend to allow the crisis to drag on until the scheduled opening of the National People’s Congress on June 20, which the students had voted to continue their occupation of the square until.” (Kelly, FRSO)
It was because of both the CPC and PLA’s actions that Chinese socialism was protected and a bourgeois counter-revolution averted. Despite both the western media and various groups of ultra-leftists’ wishes of painting a beautiful story of “David versus Goliath”, like that of Ely’s account of the events, the truth of what really happened on that heroic, yet tragic day remains unhindered.
**UPDATE** Thanks to Wikileaks, secret cables have now been released showing once and for all that there was no bloodshed inside the Tiananmen Square during the 1989 protests.
“China & Market Socialism: A Question of State & Revolution”, Return to the Source, May 20, 2011.
“Chinese Counter-Revolution Crushed”, Lalkar, August 1989.
Ely, M., “June 4: Remembering the Rebels of Tiananmen”, Kasama Project, June 3, 2011.
Gowans, S., “Liu’s Nobel Prize for Capitalism”, what’s left, October 12, 2010.
“In His Own Words: Liu Gang: A Story of Physics and Freedom in China”, APS Physics, October 1996.
Kelly, M., “Continuing the Revolution is Not a Dinner Party”, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, 1989.
Matthews, J., “The Myth of Tiananmen: And the price of a passive press”, Columbia Journalism Review, June 4, 2010.
Mclnerney, Andy, ed. China: Revolution and Counterrevolution. San Francisco, CA: PSL Publications, 2008. Print.
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Professor Toad, “The Chinese Economy in 1978”, The Marxist-Leninist, June 14, 2010.